The Government Affairs Committee (GAC) and Economic Development Committee (EDC) once again merged monthly meetings during December. This time our feature speaker was Mayor Mitch Roth who was just 3 days “on the job” when we spoke with him while he was in Kona. Not surprisingly he was immersed in meetings with various departments, identifying issues and opportunities with staff. He quipped that he was functioning in “10 minute segments” as he comes up to speed on detailed aspects of the County government. As he mentioned during his campaign, he is keen to see government help people thrive and not become an obstacle to innovation just because “we’ve always been doing things this way”. Mayor Roth expressed on several occasions how impressed he was by the staff he spoke with, and their support for his push for innovation to improve the County’s support of the community. He is implementing performance metrics with his department heads to gauge monthly progress with this overarching goal of enhancing communities across the entire island. He has received very positive feedback from his plans to better cover east/west island needs by distributing his team (and his time) at County offices in Hilo and Kona.
A number of his cabinet appointments will come up for confirmation with the County Council December 23, with the remainder in January. Several participants in the meeting expressed that the incoming Mayor should be allowed to assemble his team as a matter of management principle so he can achieve the goals conveyed during his winning campaign. Mayor Roth shared that he seeks reasonable levels of development as a means of ensuring economic growth, while also not wanting to see over development, like the case for some other islands.
Naturally discussions included the impact of the pandemic on Hawai‘i Island. With Federal Cares money expiring during December, Mayor Roth is focusing on finding alternate sources of funding for key COVID services, e.g., to cover the cost of on-going testing programs. He anticipates the County having an important role in the latter phases of vaccination programs, with hospitals and health care facilities handling their own vaccination efforts in early 2021. For example, broader population vaccinations may be made available through “drive through” events scattered across the island. He noted that the reliance on property taxes as the principal form of County revenue meant that this year’s County budget was overall fine, and projections for next FY show a modest shortfall in revenue but it will likely be manageable. The County budget situation certainly isn’t as bleak as the State’s situation due to COVID depressing the economy.
Other topics discussed included recovery from the 2018 eruptions, improving support for agriculture (Farm-to-Table), enabling infrastructure including 5G internet, and innovative approaches to dealing with solid waste issues (increasing recycling options for the community). The meeting ended with Mayor Roth encouraging the participants to contact him or his staff if they have ideas for improving County government and services, noting that improving our way of life on Hawai‘i Island involves everyone’s involvement at some level.
Our January meeting, held on Tuesday, January 5, was a combined GAC/EDC meeting and we featured Rachel Solemsaas, Chancellor of Hawai‘i Community College.